According to the website of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), under the section "National Security Threats - Terrorism":
"Terrorism, including terrorist travel and the radicalization of Canadians, is the most prominent threat to Canadian interests and our national security. The intelligence community has never before faced a terrorist threat of this scope, scale, and complexity."
The CSIS text, last modified on January 27, 2017, also notes that, despite ISIS's huge losses, "its ideology continues to hold global appeal, including among susceptible Canadians," and Canadians with extremist Muslim views "continue to engage in a range of terrorist activity, in Canada and abroad."
By January 2017, CSIS was aware of:
"approximately 180 individuals with a nexus to Canada who are engaged in terrorist activity abroad, approximately half believed to be in Syria or Iraq.
"The activities of these extremist travellers vary widely, ranging from planning operations, training, and logistical support, to fundraising and studying at extremist institutions."
The number of "people suspected of travelling overseas to engage in terrorist activity" increased to about 250 by November 2017, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
CSIS also stated that some 60 "returnees" -- fighters who had returned to Canada -- "have the potential to pose a significant threat to our national security." In other words, there are dozens of jihadis roaming free in Canada, without being apprehended or charged by authorities.
CSIS noted that returnees may behave in a number of different ways, "from returning to normality, to radicalizing others, to financing or facilitating the travel of others, or to engage in attack planning." Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party government and its supporters in academia and the media, however, seem to focus mainly on a wish that the returnees' resume normal lives, and promote the argument that such people are open to rehabilitation. The government has thus chosen to welcome the returnees with open arms, and to aim, seemingly by wishing, for their rehabilitation and re-integration; it also has an array of flawed excuses to support its choice.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images)
Goodale, however, although he says that the chance of reintegrating returning ISIS fighters is "pretty remote."
"Goodale admits pursuing charges against these people is difficult. So far charges have been brought in two cases since the Liberals came to power. The challenge, Goodale said, is in translating intelligence that Canadian security agencies have on these people into evidence that will stick in court."
Meanwhile, Lorne Dawson, project director for the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS) -- which receives money for research through a fund administered by the Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence, established by the federal government -- claims that returnees can be rehabilitated.
"Dawson said that many terrorist travellers are disillusioned by the time they return home, and others suffer from trauma. Others, he said, may be focused on returning to a more normal life after feeling they have fought for their cause overseas.
"'No credible expert in the world thinks you arrest your way out of jihadist radicalization -- it's a social movement,' Dawson told the Canadian Press. 'You can't possibly arrest all the people who are engaged with this ideology.'"
It is not clear whether Dawson's statements are based solely on "talking with" returnees. He seems to be misinforming Canadians by blurring the distinction between jihadist ideology and mainstream Islam, and between jihadist ideology and operational or actual jihad. It is notable that, while touting rehabilitation, Dawson also skillfully avoids taking responsibility for his position, by saying: "You could rehabilitate them... but only with a very careful effort, which we're not well-equipped for in Canada right now."
The noise surrounding the debate over jihadist returnees has been drowning out the country's intelligence service assessment about the threat they pose to Canada's national security -- a threat that the Trudeau government is ill-prepared, ill-equipped and ideologically ill-suited to confront.
This is not to say that there should be no debate or discussion. On the contrary, containing the threat posed by jihadist returnees should not be one-dimensional. However, prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorists should be the top priority, ahead of rehabilitation and reintegration. The appointment of a special prosecutor to handle terrorism-related trials and the development of precise rules and guidance in the collection and use of secret intelligence in court cases are urgently recommended.
A.Z. Mohamed is a Muslim born and raised in the Middle East.